It turns out that stress may not be as bad for you as you think. While you’ve likely heard of the fight-or-flight syndrome, where your body revs up to either struggle or retreat in the face of stressors, have you heard of the tend-and-befriend response? Tend-and-befriend theory builds on the observation that in times of stress, human beings help each other out, come together in community, and build support systems. This is a positive response to stress. But what accounts for this positive response. According to Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford psychologist, the trick is to remember a few simple strategies when you find yourself in stressful situations. These practices can help you turn stress from something negative into something positive that benefits you.
1. Reframe your anxiety as energy. The next time you feel the physical symptoms of anxiety – like sweating, heart pounding, and that adrenaline rush – it’s important to remind yourself that your body is working with you, not against you. Tell yourself that your body is ramping up to help you stay more alert and do your very best.
2. Remind yourself that you’re not alone. When you find yourself awake at night, feeling overwhelmed by chronic worries, such as financial problems or a difficult health diagnosis, think of others who are going through the same struggle. Focusing on others faced with similar obstacles will serve as a reminder that your life is not uniquely screwed up. And that extra moment can create a little breathing room between you and your stress.
3. Lend a hand. The next time you feel overwhelmed by stress, try this simple trick: Do something nice and unexpected for someone else. By turning your attention away from yourself and onto something bigger, you can reduce anxiety and increase hope and courage. This is the meaning of tend-and-befriend response, and that feel-good energy can give you a better perspective.
4. Become your own advocate. The next time you experience stress, think of what your best friend might advise. Just as a friend might do, remind yourself that stress shows can indicate an important opportunity or transition and that embracing the challenge can lead to positive outcomes.
5. Learn the lesson. Dwelling on a situation that didn’t go as planned can cause major stress. In situations like these, it’s a good idea to think about what you’ve learned. Use it as an opportunity to reflect and grow. In the short-term, you will take the negativity out of the picture and in the long-term, you’ll be rehearsing how you’ll handle touch situations in the future.
While stress deservedly gets a bad rap, knowing how to make stress work for you has its benefits. The key is to keep stress limited to short bursts that release your creativity, curiosity and resiliency. When that happens, you not only can create conditions for successful outcomes, you will also benefit from improved immunity, speedy healing, and the release of mood-boosting hormones.